A bright new start as GB3 raises its game

A healthy grid and a new, quicker car make for a promising season in the UK’s premier junior single-seater series, which gets underway this weekend at Oulton Park.

GB3 track action

The beginning of a new season dawns for the GB3 Championship this weekend, and one which promises to be its most successful to date. More than 20 drivers have been confirmed – many signed up months in advance – across nine teams, while a new car promises a significant lowering of lap times.

One of the championship favourites will likely be Luke Browning, who joins the series full-time in 2022 with Hitech GP after spending last season in the German ADAC Formula 4 Championship, where he finished third overall. This weekend’s Oulton Park opener will not be the first time the 20-year-old will have raced in GB3 – he impressed in a one-off outing last season with Fortec Motorsports at the same venue, taking a win and a further podium (which he was stripped of post-race following a technical infringement).

This came off the back of Browning winning the British F4 title in 2020 by the slimmest of margins over Zak O’Sullivan, who would go on to dominate GB3 last season with Carlin.

Browning is talking up his move into GB3 at this stage of his career, citing the performance increase of this year’s cars as significant. “I actually don’t think it’s a sidestep this year because with the new car it’s just such a big step [in performance], close to three seconds quicker than it was last year,” says the Briton. “In racing terms, that’s huge.

“We want to win the championship, that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I’ve been drafted in for and that’s what I believe the team is capable of. I’ll be disappointed if we’re not on the front row when it comes to the start of the season.”

Luke Browning is joining GB3 after spending three years racing at F4 level

Luke Browning is joining GB3 after spending three years racing at F4 level

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

The new car, the Tatuus MSV-022, is a step forward in performance and safety, with the tub featuring the halo cockpit protection device. The total output of the two-litre, four-cylinder Mountune engine has increased by 20bhp to 250bhp, while there is a 20-25% increase in downforce levels. This equates to lap times in the region of two seconds quicker around most tracks and performance closer to FIA F3, where the past three GB3 champions have moved on to.

FEATURE: The UK's changing single-seater landscape in 2022

The new machine could well offer a chance for less established teams in the championship, such as Elite Motorsport, to make a mark. Eddie Ives’s squad entered single-seater racing for the first time last term, using the 2021 campaign as a learning year ahead of the introduction of the new car.

“It only starts to feel uncomfortable when you start slipping back, but hopefully that won’t happen this season” Luke Browning

Tom Lebbon, the 2020 Ginetta Junior champion, continues with the squad and believes there’s every chance they can be fighting at the front.“I think the new car has helped us out whereas other teams obviously ran the other one for years,” says Lebbon, who finished ninth overall last season. “It was our first year and we were constantly developing whereas they’d already done that years ago. Now everyone is in that phase with the new car, we’re already in the rhythm of that and I think it’s an advantage. Other teams are going to have to start again, more so than we have had to, I believe.”

Lebbon isn’t the only driver remaining for a second full season, with Carlin fielding both Brazilian Roberto Faria and Spaniard Javier Sagrera, who showed glimpses of speed in 2021. Faria finished fifth in the standings and is the highest-placed driver from last year staying in the series. Carlin is also the in-form team – it has won the past three drivers’ titles.

A determining factor in the pecking order could be how much each team was able to test the new car pre-season. Supply delays of the new machines mean seat time has been at a premium, with Browning only getting his first drive in the new car at Donington Park a month before the start of the campaign, while teams running three drivers – including Carlin, Douglas Motorsport, Elite, Fortec and Hitech – have had to share out driving duties prior to the past few weeks.

Tom Lebbon believes new car will give teams like Elite Motorsport the chance to fight at the front

Tom Lebbon believes new car will give teams like Elite Motorsport the chance to fight at the front

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Despite a lack of seat time, Browning is confident heading into the season, having “matured so much over the last year”, and isn’t feeling pressure despite being touted as a title favourite. “When I’m at the front or when I’m on pole, when I’m winning races, that’s when I feel comfortable,” he says. “It only starts to feel uncomfortable when you start slipping back, but hopefully that won’t happen this season.”

Browning isn’t the only former British F4 title winner to move into GB3 this season, as reigning champion Matthew Rees makes the step up with JHR Developments. The 16-year-old has high hopes, despite being new to the series. “Every driver always wants to win otherwise we wouldn’t bother being here, but I think it’s just a case of taking it round by round each time,” he says.

“I think in the first two rounds I’ll just focus on learning because obviously I’ve never driven a GB3 car in a race. It’s just learning how to use the new car, because obviously the downforce is so much more so you’ve got to learn how to follow cars a bit more effectively.”

The season will comprise 24 races across eight triple-header rounds, with trips to Oulton this weekend, Silverstone (May/July), Donington Park (May/October), Snetterton, Spa-Francorchamps and Brands Hatch, with only the second visit to Silverstone not in support of British GT.

Exposure of the championship will also be boosted by live TV coverage this season, while the title winner will again be handed a two-day FIA F3 test to help them follow in the hallowed footsteps of previous champions.

Reigning British F4 champion Matthew Rees is making the move to GB3 with JHR

Reigning British F4 champion Matthew Rees is making the move to GB3 with JHR

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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